Dashain is the time when everything except the most essential services will remain closed for a week or more. Most offices, schools and colleges, including government offices are closed for the big festival when one is expected to head home wherever that may be. Some choose to fly, others take buses or private vehicles while some have to walk for days to reach home. Of course, many do not need to travel at all if they belong here. But the general sentiment is that one must be with the family and close relatives to celebrate this happy occasion. It’s an obligatory annual reunion that brings siblings and parents together along with grand-parents, uncles and aunties; one should be thankful! And what’s better than receiving blessings from all your elders?
But how does it work for the economy of the country? Production comes to a halt, the service sector is hit by a shortage of staff and even if you keep your shop open, there may be no customers. The irony is that just before Dashain, the Dashain shopping begins, giving a hefty boost to the market which involves everything from selling animals to clothes; food to TV sets and cars, bikes what have you. Many receive their bonuses from their offices and the buying spree begins. The huge crowds that descend on the market do splurge during this festival; people do up their homes and everyone must wear new clothes no matter how poor you may be. There’s no doubt there’s a spike in the sale of alcohol and meat too as Dashain is synonymous with gorging and drinking a little too much. Overall, there’s a massive boost to the economy. When the whole nation spends, the transactions must amount to billions. And today with so many migrant workers sending money to their families back home, remittances definitely shoot up during Dashain. Obviously they will be sending more during festivals so their spouses and kids can celebrate with gay abandon.
Then there’s the tourism industry that unfortunately has its peak season during Dashain and Tihar, leaving those working for travel agencies, hotels and transport companies no option but to stay behind and work while the rest of the country is celebrating. I remember a friend who worked for Yeti Travels who barely had time to drop into a relative’s house for tika and then rushed back to meet his group of tourists. So it is during Dashain and Tihar that Nepal is flooded with tourists who are around till just before Christmas when they dwindle to a trickle.
Dashain is the time when goat farmers look forward to making a killing (no pun intended). Farmers have a field day selling their produce in the Dashain markets. Florists, tailors, jewelers, retailers of all kinds of goods like clothes, shoes, electronics, food, TV sets, washing machines, you name it, make hay while the sun shines. With the buying power of the middle classes growing rapidly, sales are high and traders can afford to give discounts. But once the festival is into its first week, the market collapses and everything shuts down and the streets are empty; everybody stays homes. If you need to get anything done, better get it done before Dashain as even printing presses close, construction workers head home and official documents from government offices have to be extracted before the holidays begin. Close to Tika, even the restaurants in Thamel shut down and tourists are seen frantically marching up and down the narrow streets looking for food. I remember one Dashain, when an Indian guy selling rolls on the lane where KC’s is located made a killing. Within half an hour he was sold out and the people moved on and so did he. Only a few Tibetan owned and Indian owned restaurants were open with a limited number of staff who couldn’t really cope with the huge number of hungry tourists.
Besides what goes on in the market, the transport industry does enjoy a boom during Dashain. Planes are fully booked way in advance and they can afford to charge full rates, which in some cases is thrice the lowest rates in normal times. Buses are packed and many people struggle to get tickets. Flights and buses are added to meet the surge in demand, yet they may not meet the demand. These days many people also like to travel abroad during the holidays. Not everybody looks forward to big gatherings; some like to have a quiet Dashain in a foreign land, posting their selfies on facebook or instagram.
However, with most of the industries closed for a week or more, the losses incurred by the government’s coffers must be humongous. Factories across the country shut down for the festival, and all the workers head home. So obviously our exports dwindle down when even the truck drivers take leave. Does the pre-Dashain shopping compensate for the huge losses during the festival? Is Dashain good or bad for the economy? Has anyone done the math?